seneca creek trail

5 Best Mountain Bike Rides in West Virginia

Appropriately nicknamed the Mountain State, West Virginia is a modern-day paradise for a wide variety of outdoor enthusiasts, particularly for mountain bikers looking to tame the state’s many beautiful hills and valleys.  Situated in the Appalachian region of the Southern U.S., West Virginia is bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the north (and, slightly, east), and Maryland to the northeast. It is the 9th-smallest state in America, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in character and pure outdoor splendor.

West Virginia is well-known for its mountains and rolling hills and natural beauty, and the mountain biking trails that are located here have been expertly designed for every level of rider, ranging from beginner courses to expert-only tracks.  To illustrate this point, in the following article we will highlight five of the state’s most popular and well-ridden trails and describe the characteristics that make each of them so fun and unique.

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Mountwood Park Trail System

Located in the beautiful town of Parkersburg in the greater Mid-Ohio Valley, Mountwood Park is the oldest and most popular trail system in a region that is nationally-recognized for the prevalence and quality of its off-road cycling opportunities.  For over two decades, the River Valley Mountain Bike Association (RVMBA) has labored diligently to make Mountwood Park’s 30+mile trail network one of the finest in the eastern United States and one of the most highly regarded single track mountain biking destinations in the country.

Generally speaking, the trail network at Mountwood Park is rated “intermediate,” but in reality there are trails here for every level of rider, including first-time novice cyclists to experienced competitive racers.  And speaking of racing, the park also plays host to one of the longest-running and most well-attended races in the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association Points Series, a race known as the Challenge at Mountwood.  The entertaining and fast-paced race consistently draws hundreds of racers from several nearby states each spring—racers looking  to test their early-season fitness on courses that “rip and flow through the valleys, ravines, and ridge tops surrounding Mountwood’s 50-acre lake.”

To ensure riders enjoy the utmost in thrills and entertainment, the Mountwood Trail System is consistently updated and maintained by the RVMBA. This means that every trip to this exciting mountain bike park is like a brand new experience, which is probably why riders return to the park again and again.  A complete single track course that is open year round, the Mountwood trail features heart-pounding climbs, rapid descents and endless ridge riding through scenic, rocky woodlands and the historic ruins of the nineteenth-century oil community of Volcano.

Guests to Mountwood Park will find the courses well-marked according to the difficulty level of each trail, with the colors green indicating a beginner-level course, blue an intermediate track, and black signaling that the course is for experts only.

Big Bear Lake Trail Center

If you are an intermediate to advanced rider looking for a challenging, yet thrilling mountain biking destination, you may want to pack up your gear and head to West Virginia’s Big Bear Lake Trail Center.  Located in the small town of Hazelton, the Big Bear Lake Trail Center is rapidly gaining a reputation as a hotspot for classic east coast single track excitement, and after years of development and maintenance by experienced mountain bikers the entire trail system has never been in better shape.

Although not recommended for beginner/novice riders, the Big Bear Lake Trail has plenty to offer experienced cyclists, including, but certainly not limited to, gradual climbs, large embedded rocks, tight slaloms, challenging rock gardens, and off the saddle downhills that are both fast and technical.  Consisting of nearly 50 miles of trail length, the system here winds through a variety of local flora, ranging from knee deep ferns to soft needle pine plantations to endless groves of mountain laurel.  Whether looking for up-and-down tracks or miles of technical straightaways, riders will find a full range of trails to suit their interests and preferences at Big Bear—a place built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers.

Riders will find it easy to get around at the Big Bear Lake Trail Center, as trail maps are provided at the main entrance. The trail fee is $5/day or $30 for a season pass. Passes can be purchased at the main entrance.  Cyclists enjoying trails at The Big Bear Lake Trail Center may inquire about overnight camping sites in Beaver Creek Village.

North Bend Rail Trail (North Bend State Park)

Situated in the town of Harrisville, West Virginia, the North Bend Rail Trail is part of the popular North Bend State Park, so named because of the horseshoe-shaped curve of the North Fork of the Hughes River.

The North Bend Rail Trail is a 72-mile multi-use course—a course designed for hiking, horseback riding and, most importantly, mountain biking.  As its name might suggest, the North Bend Rail Trail runs alongside the old B & O Railroad bed, beginning in the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia and continuing to Wolf Summit, near Clarksburg, West Virginia.  The trail, which is rated intermediate due to its distance, offers a wonderfully scenic ride through a number of quaint small towns.

The North Bend Rail Trail travels through a total of 13 tunnels, over 36 bridges, and passes through—or near—a variety of state, county and local parks.  The trail is additionally part of the 5,500-mile, coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail.

In addition to hosting the rail trail’s trailhead, North Bend State Park boasts an abundance of fun recreational facilities in a beautiful pastoral setting. The fishing streams, lake, hiking trails, abundant wildlife, exceptional overnight accommodations, lodge and cabins, and the lodge dining room are just some of the great features of this year-round park.

Seneca Creek Trail

Seneca Creek Trail is located in the quiet town of Spruce Knob, West Virginia in the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area of the Monongahela National Forest—a hotspot for both mountain biking and rock climbing.  The cycling trail here is a scenic dream, featuring meadows, streams, hardwood forests and gushing waterfalls.  Unlike some of the other rail trails in West Virginia’s national forests, the out-and-back Seneca Creek Trail is representative of former railroad corridors: flat and even and rated as perfect for beginner riders.

The Seneca Creek Trail is part of the larger 70-mile Spruce Knob-Seneca Creek Backcountry Trail System, and at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is West Virginia’s highest peak.  This wonderful trail follows the bubbling Seneca Creek, a fast-flowing, spring-fed mountain stream whose clean, crystal water can be heard and seen nearly everywhere along the trail.

Beginning at the trailhead, the Seneca Creek Trail immediately traverses through a series of meadows and spruce groves before taking riders through the coolness of the hardwood forest.  Overhead, a canopy of maple, beech, birch and cherry trees create a natural warren, offering a wide array of color in the fall and much-needed shade in the summer.  Riders will also cross a number of small creeks along the trail before ending up at the 30-foor Upper Seneca Creek Falls—a great place to rest and recharge while enjoying all the splendor mother nature has to offer.

Kennison Mountain Trail

Rated as intermediate, the Kennison Mountain Trail is a mostly technical single track, with only a few climbs and descents, but plenty of rocks and roots to challenge riders along the way. Located in the town of Richwood, West Virginia, the trail spans a total of 9 miles, or roughly 18 miles when ridden as an out-and-back loop.

The rolling terrain of the Kennison Mountain Trail takes riders through three boardwalks and over a series of small creeks before beginning a gentle climb up the famed Kennison Mountain. The trail concludes with a one-mile and very precipitous downhill that takes cyclists down to the cool water of the Cranberry River.  There is no foot bridge here, so riders will need to carry their bikes across the river before taking the dirt road back to the parking area.

image credit: chrisscottistan.blogspot.com 

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